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Telomeres, Crisis and Cancer

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Eukaryotic chromosomes terminate in specialized nucleic acid-protein complexes known as telomeres. Disruption of telomere structure by erosion of telomeric DNA or loss of telomere binding protein function activates a signal transduction program that closely resembles the cellular responses generated upon DNA damage. Telomere dysfunction in turn induces a permanent proliferation arrest known as senescence. Senescence is postulated to perform a tumor suppressor function by limiting cellular proliferative capacity, thus imposing a barrier to cellular immortalization. Genetic or epigenetic silencing of components of the DNA damage pathway, allows cells to proliferate beyond senescence limits. However, these cells eventually reach a stage of extreme telomere dysfunction known as crisis that is characterized by cell death and the concomitant appearance of cytogenetic abnormalities. Telomeric crisis produces significant chromosomal instability, a hallmark of human cancer, and may thus be relevant to carcinogenesis by increasing the occurrence of genetic alterations that would favor neoplastic transformation. The following review examines the relationship of telomere function during crisis in accelerating chromosomal instability and cancer.
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Keywords: cancer syndromes; dna repair; mammalian genome; mismatch repair genes (mmr); mutations

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Department of Cancer Biology, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massasuchsetts, USA.

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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  • Current Molecular Medicine is an interdisciplinary journal focused on providing the readership with current and comprehensive reviews on fundamental molecular mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, the development of molecular-diagnosis and/or novel approaches to rational treatment. The reviews should be of significant interest to basic researchers and clinical investigators in molecular medicine. Periodically the journal will invite guest editors to devote an issue on a basic research area that shows promise to advance our understanding of the molecular mechanism(s) of a disease or has potential for clinical applications.
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